Tag Archives: Higher Ed

Dutch Students Have Stolen My Heart!

My last post was a bit number-y and kind of a downer. So this one will be fun and full of stories about the wonderful students I’ve met over the past two weeks!

I’ve met oodles of Summa College students during this trip: well over one hundred. I already wrote about my first days meeting wonderful students at Noëmi’s school and at School 23, so you can read about those adventures and see pictures of the students.

But I’ve met so many more students after last Tuesday, and I wanted to tell you a little bit about them. Last Thursday I observed five classes: three of Chiara’s classes (Chiara is a teacher-in-training and a former teaching intern); one of Noëmi’s classes; and one of Franka’s classes (Franka is a Dr. Who fan, so she is obviously top-notch).

First up at 10 a.m. was Chiara’s English class for 2nd year healthcare students. They were a good start to the day, although a little shy and quiet. They asked great questions (including the now infamous high school cheerleader question) and were the reason Chiara and I started to crunch the numbers about college tuition in the U.S. Unfortunately, I let them leave without getting a picture, so please imagine that they were smart looking, because they were.

Next up at 11:15 a.m. was a class of Chiara’s 3rd year nursing students, and they were on it. As soon as Chiara mentioned that I was from the U.S., one of her students said — in a pretty damn good rural-American accent — “America: Fuck yeah!” From that point forward, they were hilarious and engaged. They had questions about school and about nursing, about tuition, cheerleaders (of course), and about my thoughts on visiting the school and the Netherlands. I took a nice group picture of them with Chiara…

Chiara’s 3rd Year Nursing Students with Chiara (far right)

…but we also wanted one altogether. So I took these terrible selfies to try to get us all in:

You guys know how amazing I am at taking selfies, so you should be impressed that any part of my face is visible.

Next up was Noëmi’s class of 2nd year students at 12:15 p.m. I said goodbye to Chiara, knowing I would meet up with her later on that afternoon to visit one more of her classes. Noëmi’s 2nd year students had a hard act to follow with Chiara’s 3rd years, but they turned out to be pretty spectacular. These were a small group of students who’d “chosen” wrong. In my earlier post I explained that Dutch students make choices at age 12 about the type of high school they’ll attend (general vocation [hospitality, healthcare, teaching/education…], general, or college-prep), and then at age 16 they make a choice to focus on a specific area within the general area.

All of Noëmi’s students have chosen nursing, which puts them at her college, but the students in this class had made an early decision that they wanted to change, and then they switched to nursing a little later than most students started. This meant that they were older than her typical 2nd year students (19/20 instead of 17/18), and they were a little more mature and focused. This is saying a lot, since all of the students I encountered at Summa College gave me the impression that they were mature and focused.

These students asked some of the most interesting and thoughtful questions, and Noëmi showed them the requirements for a nursing degree at McHenry County College, which they appreciated seeing and had a lot of questions about. They were the only class that did not ask about cheerleading.

Noëmi’s 2nd Year Nursing Students

After this class, Noëmi and I had a thirty minute break so we ate some sandwiches and fruit in the teacher’s lounge, and then got a cup of coffee. (Have I mentioned how frequently the Dutch have coffee breaks throughout the day? Quite often. It’s one of the most civilized things about them and something I want to immediately import to the U.S.)

After lunch I met up with Franka, the Dr. Who fan and English teacher for students studying to be dental assistants. These were typical 2nd year students, about 18 years old. They were a little shy, but there was another teaching of English who asked questions to get them warmed up and who had excellent questions about paths of study in the U.S. They were the first group to whom I explained my own circuitous route to becoming a teacher.

Franka is kneeling in the front row left, wearing glasses

The last class I got to visit was back with Chiara, her 3rd year part-time nursing students. These students were similar to MCC’s returning adult students: students who’d been working at a job for ten or twenty years, and then decided they were up for a change so they went back to school to study nursing.

It was in this class that I felt most at home with the material, since she was giving a lesson on how to compose a business letter. She touched on a lot of the same things I touch on with my students: addressing an unfamiliar audience clearly and professionally; using a standard salutation and closing; and proofreading (!!!). She also talked about the “shit” rule for remembering subject-verb agreement, and I’m going to steal it. Here’s what it is:

If you have a subject that’s needed to make “shit”, then you need to add an “s” to the verb. What do you need to make shit? She, He, and It. So, “she sings,” and “he drives,” and “it produces.” SHIT!

I love it. Thanks, Chiara!

I didn’t get a picture of this final Thursday class, and I’m kind of bummed about it. But it did mark a time I made a dumb American blunder with a Dutch person. The desks were arranged in a two-layered U-shape, and before the class started I sat in the second layer on the end. The person in front of me had her things there, but she was getting coffee, and when she came back she asked me, in Dutch, if it was okay if she sat in front of me.

Now, I am such a goof that when someone is speaking to me in Dutch and I don’t immediately get the gist of what they’re saying, I just sort of stare dumbly and smile. So, that’s what I did and then, still smiling, I shook my head “No.” To me, I was trying to tell her that I didn’t understand; she thought I was telling her that she could not sit in front of me. She probably thought I was a major asshole. Luckily, someone in the class said that I was an American and then she asked in English, and I was so apologetic and said that of course she could sit in front of me! She laughed really hard and the whole class had a great sense of humor. That made me love them all very much.

I’d made another American tourist gaffe my first day on campus. I was doing simulations with the doctor’s assistant students: a student would sit at a reception desk behind me and I’d call with an ailment; the student had to identify whether I should come in to see the doctor if it was serious, or if I could take some aspirins and stay home. I first pretended to have a mild headache; I called the second student with a stomachache; and, since the first two had asked if I had a fever and I’d said “No,” I thought that I’d have a fever for the third student.

But when she asked what my temperature reading was, I thought to myself, “hmm, what’s a kind-of serious but not too high temperature?” And I answered, “101 degrees.” The room was silent for a couple of seconds before Noëmi burst out laughing and the rest of the class (who were listening in order to debrief after the calls) joined in as well. It took me a second to realize that I’d given them a Fahrenheit temperature and basically just told them that my blood was boiling. Noëmi gave me a quick calculation and I changed my answer to 38 degrees. Yikes.

On Monday I observed five more of Noëmi’s classes: two 2nd year classes, two 3rd year classes, and a 1st year class. One of the 3rd year classes I visited was the same class I’d met first last week Monday; I’d forgotten to get a picture of them, so we made sure to get one this time:

The only group I got to see twice!

The other groups were, as expected, great. They had similar types of questions as the groups I’d met last week, though Noëmi’s 11:45 a.m. 3rd year class also gave me some good ideas about things to do in Amsterdam once my time with Noëmi and Dave is over and Trevor comes to town (more about that later). They were the first to suggest that we visit the Anne Frank House Museum, which we’re doing on Tuesday; and they also mentioned that I might like to visit a “coffee” shop. We’ll see about that.

Noëmi’s 3rd year students

Noëmi’s 1st year students — very early in their studies, but their English was excellent!

Noëmi’s 2nd year students

As you can see, they are very smart looking and adorable. I told them that I’d tour them around Chicago if they ever came my way, and some of them were actually interested. But even if I never see them again, they helped make my time here meaningful. Thank you, students!

I’ll have more posts about the faculty development conference we attended at Microsoft’s Amsterdam offices last Friday, the visit we took to the hospitality school (and all of the wonderful food we ate [and helped cook!]) and the meetings I had with some of the Summa College administrators. Well, maybe I won’t do an entire post on the administrative meetings: I found them fascinating and I took tons of notes, but they might not be very interesting to you.

Today is my last day with Noëmi and Dave. Trevor flies into Amsterdam tomorrow (I AM SO EXCITED TO SEE HIM), so I’ll also have some posts documenting our adventures. Stay tuned for all of that.

Spreek je snel!

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Equitable Education: We Don’t Have It

Last week, in addition to visiting School 23, the Summa College school for hospitality training, and Efteling Theme Park, I got to see a lot of students and teachers in action, and I got a taste of Dutch faculty development. I was going to focus this post on those things — the amazing teachers and students, the excellent faculty development — but as I typed out an explanation of the Dutch education system’s tuition and compared it to ours in the U.S., I realized that I couldn’t focus on anything fun…yet. As a result, this post is a little dry, but I hope you read it. I think it’s important. Tomorrow I’ll give you a little brain candy and a lot of great pictures of smart, interesting Dutch students.

On Thursday, Noëmi and I headed back to the Summa Zorg campus. She’d arranged for me to observe five different English classes: three taught by her former intern and now a teacher-in-training, Chiara; one by her colleague Franka; and one of Noëmi’s own.

The first two classes were taught by Chiara, an energetic young woman of Irish and German descent who was born in Germany and moved to the Netherlands when she was four years old (her father’s work transferred him here). Her English is spectacular and her accent is a bit Irish/a bit Dutch, and all of it was a pleasure to listen to.

Chiara’s 3rd Year Nursing Students with Chiara (far right)

Her first class was made up of 2nd year healthcare students (who I am just realizing now I didn’t get a picture of — imagine them as great, because they were). They were fairly young and a little shy. I explained the U.S. education system to them and talked about some of the differences between it and the Dutch education system.

The first significant difference is choice: when Dutch students are 12 years old, they must decide which type of secondary education they will pursue: a vocational education (VMBO), a general liberal arts education (HVAO), or a more stringent university-preparatory education (VWO). The students who have selected the vocational education go through four years of the VMBO and then, at age 16, they must decide on a specific vocation. That choice determines which college (MBO) they will attend; the students who have chosen healthcare come to Noëmi’s school, Summa Zorg.

This means that at age 16, students decide on a career. If they change their minds, they can switch schools, but they may need to go backwards a bit to make up the curriculum they missed, and this could delay graduation. The system sounded stressful to me (I changed my mind about possible careers until I was about 26; and I think that’s actually pretty decisive). But when I questioned the students about this, they more or less seemed okay with their choices. A couple were a bit uncertain — what if they decide later that they want to do something else? — but many felt confident in their decisions. And I encountered students who had chosen a different vocation, but who’d then switched to healthcare, or were interested in switching from healthcare to something else. They said that yes, there was a bit of delay, but they were happy they’d made the change early and not once they’d gotten into a career they didn’t like and didn’t fit with.

The other significant difference is tuition. When Dutch students begin college at an MBO (or at an HBO, which is comparable to a four-year college or university in the U.S.), they’re only 16 and the government is still paying for their education. The following two years are entirely funded for them, and then, once they turn 18, their tuition is $1,037 per year — to any MBO in the country. And, as long as the student finishes her degree within a reasonable period of time, the tuition is reimbursed to them upon graduation. And, all students get a free public transportation pass after secondary school, as long as they’re continuing their schooling. The government doesn’t want student to have to pay for transportation to and from school, just in case their college is far away. These MBO students are, in large part, though not all, the kind of students who attend McHenry County College.

Now, if a Dutch student is on the track for an HBO or WO (college/university in the U.S. traditional sense) her tuition is $1,984 per year; and it’s not a gift like it is with the MBO students, but a loan that must be repaid. The interest on that loan is very low (maybe 1%?) and the monthly payments are calculated based on the type of job a student is able to get after graduation. If a student has been making monthly payments without default for a long time (about twenty years, I think?), then the remainder of the loan is forgiven.

So, in Chiara’s class, when I explained the cost of tuition at my college, which is still significantly less than most colleges, and the lowest in our area, the students were shocked. Like, there was an audible gasp when Chiara and I did the math (okay, Chiara did the math) and put the price of MCC’s tuition on the whiteboard.

For a student at MCC to be considered a full-time student, she must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours. My single-semester long class is 3 credit hours; each credit hour at MCC is $104. That means that a full-time student enrolled in 12 credit hours is paying $1248 per semester and $2,496 per year, not including books or other materials that may be required for a class (specific software; art materials; uniform for nursing and culinary students). So if a nursing student at MCC is doing her two-year associate’s degree, her tuition will be $4,992.

Now, in the U.S., for a two year degree that almost immediately gets you access to a career, that sounds like a good deal, right? But the Dutch students were floored at how much money that was. For education, which, for them, is a given, like bicycles and windmills. Then I told them that at the University of Illinois Chicago, where I’m doing my master’s degree, tuition is a lot more expensive than it is at MCC, even though UIC is still considered to be reasonably priced. UIC’s in-state tuition — for a 12 credit hour undergraduate student — is $4,763 per semester, and $9,526 per year (again, without books, other materials, or boarding). And out-of-state tuition per semester is $10,550, making the annual cost $21,100. So if my nursing students (or if any of the many students at MCC who are on the baccalaureate/transfer side of the house) want to get a bachelor’s degree, after they’ve paid $4,992 at MCC, they still need to spend a minimum of $19,052 for the remaining two years of their undergraduate education.

And then one of Chiara’s student mentioned Harvard, so we quickly looked that up and saw that tuition alone — without adding in the nearly twenty-thousand dollars worth of fees, room, and board — is $44,990 per year. Plus an estimated $4,000 for “personal expenses” per year (books, materials); and up to $4,000 for traveling between school and home each year for breaks and holidays; and $3,130 for required health insurance if you’re not covered on your family’s plan. Even if you’re a townie or you don’t ever travel home to see your family, and if you don’t need to buy health insurance, you’re still dropping about $70,000 per year and $278,400 for the entirety of your undergraduate education. That doesn’t account for an increase in tuition. And you can’t ever leave Cambridge.

And I know, I know — it’s Haaaaaaahvaahd. It’s the school of schools; Harvard graduates are almost definitely going to make more money out of school than your garden variety schlub like me. But more than a quarter of a million dollars? Holy shit, man.

There’s a gulf, an abyss, even, between the people in the United States who can afford somewhere like Harvard, or even somewhere like UIC, and the students who are barely able to attend MCC (many of my students). This gulf will continue to widen and affect these students’ lives, through the time it will take them to complete their degrees, the debt they accumulate (student loan interest is currently at 3.76% but is likely to go up soon), and the salary of the jobs they are able to get. I don’t think this is okay. I really don’t think this is okay.

I started drafting this post on Sunday evening and my intention when I started was to write about all of the great students I visited last Thursday, and about the professional development conference I attended with Noëmi on Friday. But it’s Tuesday afternoon now: I’ve looked at a lot of dollar signs and I’ve met even more students to whom I’ve had to explain our tuition. This didn’t turn out to be a fun post, and I got off track from Chiara, Noëmi, and Franka. But I’m glad I wrote it. I’m glad I’m thinking about it.

Let’s all think about it, and maybe we can figure out how the U.S. can adjust its culture to believe that a post-secondary education is just as much of a right for all citizens as is the right to own a firearm. How about that, huh? Let’s start there.

Want to read more about how the new president’s budget will affect education? Read this article by Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss, and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of the Washington Post.

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